YJP’s Play Ping-Pong To Help Holocaust Survivors

C/o Margarita VolfsonC/o Margarita Volfson

The Blue Card’s fifth annual social raises funds and awareness for needy Holocaust survivors

On Tuesday night, hundreds of young Jewish professionals filled up the Prince George Ballroom on East 27th Street to play Ping-Pong, mingle and, above all, help Holocaust survivors.

The nonprofit organization The Blue Card hosted its fifth annual Ping-Pong social to raise funds and awareness for Holocaust survivors in need. Helping over 2,400 survivors every year, The Blue Card works to relieve survivors of financial hardships that interfere with their quality of living, helping with everything from their diets to their healthcare to their living environments.

The common concern, when considering the Holocaust, is to preserve the memory of the devastating genocide and the millions of lives that were taken, but what often gets overlooked are all the people who are still living and in need. “I was shocked to learn that so many survivors live below the poverty level,” said Masha Pearl, 31, executive director of The Blue Card. “Many of them eat poor diets because they can’t afford organic or kosher food. Some survivors ration their medication to make it last longer or have trouble paying for rent,” Pearl said.  

Pearl has a personal connection to the cause. “My entire family is from Eastern Europe; they escaped Nazi persecution. It’s always been in my DNA, and I’ve always felt very passionate about survivors,” said Pear continuing, “In addition to the emotional and psychological consequences these survivors suffer, we can’t have them be denied the basic dignity they so deserve."

Working through referrals from local social service agencies, The Blue Card is sent individuals whose local communities lack the resources to help them. “We make sure we are always on top of the emerging needs of the survivors and that we can serve as many survivors as we can,” said Pearl.

Hosted by the organization’s young leadership committee, the event drew a crowd mostly in their 20s in 30s who were there to show their support and take an active role in the mission.

Rachel Rosenberg, 25, a volunteer for The Blue Card, got involved through her work at the UJA-Federation of New York a couple of years ago. “I was working there [UJA] through a fellowship, which was a federal initiative for agencies to increase the capacity of organizations to help Holocaust survivors,” said Rosenberg, who is currently in graduate school at Columbia University getting her degree in social work. Like Pearl, Rosenberg feels a direct connection to the mission. “My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor so I feel very passionately about it,” said Rosenberg, who received the young leadership award at last year’s gala.

Others at the event were there independent of a familial connection. “I’m Jewish, my family is from Israel,” said John Harari, who has served as a committee host for the past five years. “Luckily, neither side of the family was impacted by the Holocaust, but that being said there aren’t going to be that many survivors left in he next few years, and now is the time to show support,” said Harari, co-founder of a trends data base for retailers called Windows Wear.

Whether or not guests personally knew anyone who went through the Holocaust, it was difficult not to feel their presence: three survivors were in attendance. It is easy to imagine a survivor as frail or depleted, but last night’s honored guests were among some of the most vital and spirited people in the room. George Wolf, 86, who was sharply dressed in a crisp white button-down shirt, gold-rimmed glasses, a blue-and-white seersucker jacket (that he smilingly referred to as “an antique”), and black leather loafers sporting gold buckles, has a gusto for life as full as his thick head of white hair.

Joking that, “They named the hall after me,” Wolf has been active in The Blue Card as a senior volunteer for the past seven years,  “I’ve been to everything,” said Wolf. Recognizing the large turnout at the event, Wolf said, “It means the organization is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, which is to reach out. It so happens that money is the blood flow of charity, so that is very important.”

Having retired from the garment industry at 79 — quipping that he is younger now and that he “regresses” in age — Wolf found himself unemployable due to his age. After joining Reserve, a nonprofit that connects other nonprofits across the tri-state area that need professional help but are lacking in funds, he discovered the organization. Through Reserve, Wolf went on a series of interviews in search of part-time employment. “The interview that hit was The Blue Card,” said Wolf.  

Wolf was not the only form of comic relief at the event. Comedian Modi Rosenfeld performed a set and was not shy about interacting with the crowd or the survivors. At first Rosenfeld drove Wolf away from the podium with an edgy joke about terrorism, but he soon won him back with a crowd-pleasing punch line about Jews burning down buildings for the insurance. Pointing to Sammy, another survivor standing in the crowd, Rosenfeld said, “He’s single, he came here to pick up a woman. That’s the only reason he’s here.”

Acknowledging that, “It’s great to be here in the Catskills” and referring to women from Los Angeles as “out of town Jewish,” Rosenfeld went on to distinguish between Sephardic and Ashkenazi: “Sephardic guys love their rabbis,” he said putting on a thick Israeli accent saying, “He’s so special this rabbi, he knows all the books.” Then switching to a heavy Eastern European accent, he said, “This rabbi? What a shmuck, what a putz, who asked him to come to the board meeting?”

The event struck an elusive balance between an entertaining evening out and a sobering reminder of why the participants were there. But more than anything, it showed off people’s passion to improve these survivors’ lives. “The mission really spoke to me; there are a lot of good causes out there, but I think very few can be so time sensitive and urgent,” said Isabella Safiyeva, senior program director of The Blue Card. “The needs of survivors is something that, as a Jewish community, we need to be focusing on right now. It’s a time-limited mission [since] as they get older their needs grow exponentially,” she continued.

Dasha Rittenberg, a child survivor, introduced one of the night’s honorees, psychologist Dr. Eva Fogelman. After reading from a pre-written introduction speech, Rittenberg added, “You’re my best friend and I love you, and that’s it.”

The off-the-cuff, simple and poignant statement drew applause, cheers and some tears from the attendees.

“We don’t want these young people to say ‘I should have done more, I should have helped’ when that chance no longer exists. It’s a time-critical mission, Safiyeva. “The time is now.”

The Blue Card’s annual fundraising gala, which is in November, will have a Broadway theme and will be directed by Tony Award-winner Daniel Sullivan. Further details on other programs such as the annual marathon can be found on the Blue Card website

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